Sustainability: The Prime Focus for the U.S. Cotton Industry

Since Covid-19, it has been observed globally that sustainability has been one of the topics that has gained attention among the brands, retailers and consumers. On one hand, there has been a shift in consumers’ choices for more sustainable products, and on the other hand brands and retailers are choosing sustainable practices throughout their supply chains.

The U.S. cotton industry has always had a sustainability-focused approach and has one of the most comprehensive systems for monitoring and measuring the key metrics to reduce environmental impact. The 16,000 cotton farms in the United States have been committed to continuous improvement for decades. For the past 35 years, U.S. cotton production used less water per bale, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced energy consumption, all while reducing land use per bale. Minimal tillage, GPS and sensor-driven precision agriculture and the growing of winter cover crops are the practices adopted for improved soil health, reducing loss and erosion and increasing soil carbon levels.

U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

In a period of ever greater supply chain scrutiny and an increasing demand for transparency and traceability, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol (Trust Protocol) sets up a new standard for more sustainably grown cotton. It offers quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to sustainable cotton production and drives continuous improvement in key sustainability metrics. It gives the brand and retailers the critical assurances they need to ascertain that the cotton fibre element of their  supply chain is more sustainably grown, ensuring lower environmental and social risk. Trust Protocol helps the apparel industry to measure the sustainability commitments to its customers, stakeholders and to itself.

The Trust Protocol underpins and verifies the sustainability progress for U.S. cotton through sophisticated data collection and independent third-party verification by Control Union Certifications (CUC). Brands and retailers will be able to access U.S. cotton with sustainability credentials proven via FieldtoMarket, measured via the Fieldprint Calculator and verified with CUC. The Trust Protocol complements the existing sustainability programs that cater for cotton grown in developing countries. It has been designed from the ground up so as to fit the unique cotton growing environment of the United States.

In order to continue the progress, the Trust Protocol has established goals for 2025 mentioned above. Trust Protocol aims to have more than half of all U.S. cotton production to be included in the program by 2025.

The Trust Protocol will help brands and retailers achieve their goal by providing verified data on the sustainability practices used on U.S. cotton farms. The cotton growers participating will benefit from data-driven insights and best practices from across the industry and establish a stronger connection with brands that ask for sustainably-grown cotton.

The Trust Protocol helps companies achieve their sustainability commitments and also contributes to seven of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are Clean water and sanitization, Affordable and clean energy, Responsible consumption and production, Climate Action, Life below water, Life on Land and Partnership for the goals.

U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol has been added to the Textile Exchange’s list of preferred fibres and materials. Trust Protocol is now one of the 36 fibres and materials that over 170 participating brands and retailers can select from as part of Textile Exchange’s Material Change Index program.

The Trust Protocol has been included in Cotton 2040’s CottonUP guide, which is a toolkit that help sourcing directors make sustainable decisions. CottonUP guide recognizes the Trust Protocol as a sustainable cotton standard alongside BCI, CmiA, Fairtrade, myBMP, organic and recycled cotton. It is a compressive guide that helps stakeholders in the cotton sector to navigate the complexity and better understand the major sustainable cotton standards that they could adopt, how they work and select the best option suitable for their business.

Cotton Council International (CCI) has joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and will use the group’s sustainability measurement suite of tools, the Higg Index to drive environmental and social responsibility through its supply chain. As a member of the SAC, CCI joins more than 250 global brands, retailers, manufacturers, governments, non-profit environmental organizations and academic institutions that commit to improve supply chain sustainability in the apparel, footwear and textile industry.

Signatories of Trust Protocol

The Trust Protocol opened for membership in October 2020 and provides brands and retailers with the critical assurance they require to prove that the cotton in their supply chain is more responsibly grown.

There are 21 brands and retailers that have enrolled with Trust Protocol globally. Among the global brands and retailers, Gap Inc. has joined the Trust Protocol to achieve its target of sourcing 100% of its cotton from more sustainable sources by 2025 for its collection of purpose-led lifestyle brands like Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athelta. Similarly, Next, a leading British multinational clothing retailer has also recently joined the Trust Protocol.

Globally, 170 supply chain partners have signed up with Trust Protocol among which 13 of them are Indian textile mills.

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